January 04, 2021

University of Cape Town Names Interim Ombuds Pending Search

The UCT Council, the governing body for the public university, will undertake a review of the Office of the Ombud after months of public controversy. The appointment of UCT's founding Ombud, Zetu Makamandela-Mguqulwa, CO-OP, ended with the calendar year and was not renewed after she publicly reported receiving many accusations of bullying by Vice Chancellor Mamokgethi Phakeng. (Phakeng is an ex officio member of the UCT Council.) Ihron Rensburg, who has no prior affiliation with UCT and experience as a vice chancellor, will advise the council and serve as the interim Ombud.

Here is the full statement by the UCT Council:
The tenure of the current incumbent, Ms Zetu Makamandela-Mguqulwa, will come to an end on 31 December 2020. Council wants to thank Ms Makamandela-Mguqulwa for her years of selfless and tireless service in this role and we wish her well in her future endeavours.

Council remains committed to the Office of the Ombud. To this end, Council approved the appointment of Professor Ihron Rensburg as advisor to Council on how best to ensure the effectiveness of the Office of Ombud as the process of recruiting a new Ombud gets underway. Professor Rensburg will be assisted in his role as advisor to Council by Professor Pierre de Vos, a constitutional law expert in UCT’s Law Faculty.

Professor Rensburg is a former University of Johannesburg Vice-Chancellor with a wealth of expertise in higher education. He will also serve as interim Ombud until a substantive appointment is made.
Rensberg has held a variety of senior leadership positions. These include serving as Vice Chancellor of the University of Johannesburg, Chief Executive of the South African Broadcasting Corporation, and Chair of the South African National Commission for UNESCO. He graduated from Rhodes University, and earned an MA and PhD at Stanford.

Just before leaving office, Makamandela-Mguqulwa issued a letter that described the pressures she endured over the past few months. “Due conversations were replaced by court papers, threats to suspend, allegations of misconduct, momentary changes of the ombud’s status, and everything possible to ensure that by the time the contract ended I would be viewed as already having been external and irrelevant to the university.” Although she was not informed about the Council's decision to name a successor, Makamandela-Mguqulwa said she hoped UCT would retain the key tenets of the ombudsman’s office. “It is specially my hope that the university retains the key characteristics of confidentiality and independence, since it is these that made people trust my office with information that would otherwise not surface. It would be impossible for my successor to contribute as ombudsman if these were to be taken away.”

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